What Does “Growth Mindset” Mean?
The concepts of “fixed” and “growth” mindsets originated over 30 years ago in the work of Psychologist Carol Dweck. If you’re interested in this topic, I highly recommend reading Dr. Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Simply, a growth mindset is one in which you believe your strengths and weaknesses can be developed and a fixed mindset is one in which you believe these attributes cannot be developed. In other words, if you believe your strengths and weaknesses are innate qualities of yourself, then your mindset is fixed. If you believe, on the other hand, that you can take what gifts or weaknesses that you have and continue developing them over time, then your mindset is more growth oriented.
It is important to understand that you don’t have one or the other overall, though; you have both. Like, I can’t say “Tom has a growth mindset but Janet has a fixed mindset.” Just like so many things, it is entirely contextual. So Tom may have a growth mindset with respect to his career progression but he may have a fixed mindset about his physical fitness.
It is also important to understand that there’s not necessarily anything wrong with having a fixed mindset within some contexts. I can imagine that many of our fixed mindsets go unrecognized because they don’t cause us any problems. We won’t worry about ALL of our fixed mindsets. The ones we care about are the ones that are holding us back from our true potential.
Where we can recognize limiting beliefs, we can also observe the potential to develop growth mindsets.
Developing a Growth Mindset
Beliefs are not so easily changed, though. If you have done your personal reflection and you have identified a mindset that you believe is getting in your way, then the first thing I like to do is some reframing. When you think about it, a belief is really just an assumption that has been allowed to grow a life of its own, for better or worse. For example, our friend Tom may have a limiting belief that because he has always been overweight, he will always be overweight. You can see how this belief would wreak havoc on a personal development goal having to do with losing weight. This fixed mindset is completely counterproductive, but my sense is that this type of example happens all too oten. People want something to change, but they subconsciously don’t believe in their ability to change it.
Having reframed the limiting belief as an assumption, now we can do what we should always do with assumptions: test it.
Following the same example as above, Tom doesn’t need to test his entire assumption all at once, even if it were possible. He really just needs to get data that can be used as evidence to support the assumption (or hypothesis if you like that term better) or to reject it. This can be done through small experiments. For Tom, maybe the experiment is to make it through one day of eating healthy and exercising; one day is a data point that says “I can do it.” And if Tom can do one day, it stands to reason that he can do one week. And maybe after one week, Tom is able to step on a scale and observe a quantified change, which also serves as more evidence that he can actually lose weight.
With enough evidence, the mindset will shift and what was once a limiting belief will become an empowering belief. What was once a fixed mindset will have become a growth mindset.
Be Mindful of Negative Triggers
This process will not be easy; changing mindsets is really tricky business. On the journey, we are taking our data collection and analysis abilities and also our self-reflection practice that we have discussed throughout this blog. When your old mindset fights back against your goals and the activities you take in pursuit of those goals, you have to be able to observe that tension without getting down on yourself.
If on week two or three, Tom steps on the scale and the number isn’t as low as he’d hoped, he needs to be able to recognize the progress that he’s already experienced, learn something, and apply any lessons to the next wave of attack. It may be tempting for him to say “Yep, that figures. I knew I was always going to be overweight.” In this instant, Tom must acknowledge the emotion he is experiencing and then commit to memory the events that led to the development of these emotions. Again, journaling may be a great idea to help keep track of these data. With enough data about negative triggers, Tom will be able to overcome potential moments of weakness and he may even be able to predict them as certain scenarios unfold during his day-to-day experience.